22 January 2009

Les vacances de Monsieur Pitt

Before seeing Burn After Reading a few months ago, I don't think I had ever seen Brad Pitt in a film. I made no distinction between him and any number of other unintersting 'stars' in the banal Hollywood system. This Japanese advert is the second thing I've seen him in and, lo and behold, it doesn't suck either. It's an hommage to Jacques Tati's Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot (with Pitt as an ersatz Monsieur Hulot), featuring a Serge Gainsbourg soundtrack. The spot was directed by Wes Anderson for the Japanese telecommunications company SoftBank, and was filmed in Normandy (Trouville?) in September 2008.

It's anachronistic (the original film is from 1953, and the music is from 1965) and obviously never going to be as good as the original, but at the same time when you combine 'Japanese advert', 'Serge Gainsbourg' and 'Jacques Tati', the result is always going to be worth a look, and this is certainly far more entertaining that anything we ever see in North America. Ici, on nous prend pour des cons !

As André Schiffrin once said, ‘Whoever has been in charge of selling French culture to the Japanese should be given a medal’.

20 January 2009

Toronto Book Fair

Well, they've done it again. It wasn't enough for them to rip off the Nuit Blanche from Montreal (via Paris), now Toronto is going to have a go at a salon du livre. As an alternative to the nearly defunct Book Expo Canada, a Toronto Book Fair has been proposed for 2-4 October 2009. This is, of course, nothing more than a salon du livre, the likes of which have existed in the francophone world for many decades (Montreal since 1978, and Paris since 1981).

According to Publishers Weekly, Book Expo Canada — also known as the Dullest Literary Event in the History of the World™ — is on its last legs, as most of the publishers and distributors, including HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Scholastic, H.B. Fenn and ‘a handful of other Canadian houses’, have all decided not to attend. In its place, Reed Exhibitions (who, incidentally, are also the people behind Publishers Weekly, the Salon du livre de Paris and Book Expo Canada) are going to try to put on an English-language salon du livre in Toronto.

As these events are wildly popular in the francophone world — the six-day event ($8 admission charge per day) in Montreal attracts about 125,000 visitors every year — and as Reed know how to put on such an event through their experience with the Salon du livre de Paris, I would expect them to do a good job with a similar event in Toronto, even if the concept of a salon du livre doesn't exist in the anglophone world and even if the demand for books is considerably greater in Paris than it is in Toronto.

All of this begs the question: why does Toronto keep copying everything done in Montreal and/or Paris? If Paris is a first-rate city, and Montreal following them in almost everything they do (see Vélib' v. Bixi for the latest example) makes us a second-rate city, does that make Toronto a third-rate city?

11 January 2009

The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe

The Rain Before It Falls, the latest novel by Jonathan Coe, will FINALLY be coming out in paperback in North America in a few weeks. It really does suck being under the thumb of the Americans to such an extent that we have to wait several months before being able to read the latest offering by one of our best contemporary novelists.

The hardback came out on 6 September 2007 in Britain, but not until 11 March 2008 in Canada, and the paperback on 5 June 2008 in the UK
but not before 10 March 2009 over here. I'm sure they don't have to put up with this stuff in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, etc., and I'm sick of having to deal with it in Canada. It happens all the time: some American publisher (in this case Random House) buys the US rights to a book, and tacks on the Canadian rights as an afterthought. Then we have to wait until the publisher gets around to publishing it in the United States, very often with an impossibly ugly cover design, while the rightful publisher (in this case Penguin) is forbidden from selling the proper British edition in Canada. I've said it before, and I'll surely say it again: Canadians are the forgotten children of the Commonwealth.

At least in this instance, the American cover design is not a complete disaster and, as an added bonus, Random House USA
have even been nice enough to not change the title of the book. That's right; sometimes the American publisher will even change the title of a book to something Americans can understand, and we Canadians have to suffer the consequences. A prime example of this is what Random House USA did (and continue to do) with Coe's first major success, What a Carve Up!

Over the years, Penguin UK have come up with a number of classy paperback cover designs for this one:

But rather than come up with something halfway decent, the Americans decided to put forth this atrocity:

Of course, coming up with an awful cover wasn't enough; they also had to change the title to something comprehensible to Americans. To this day, unless you want to import a proper British edition, at great personal expense, this is the only edition that you are ALLOWED to buy in Canada.

All of this being said, Jonathan Coe really is one of my favourite English writers, and I am very much looking forward to reading his latest. As it happens, it has just come out in France, so there's plenty of media coverage to go through while we wait for the North American paperback, including:
  • Interview with Jonathan Coe in Télérama
  • A ten-minute extract [Real Player] from The Rain Before It Falls, read by Yasmine Modestine (broadcast on France Culture on 8 January 2009)
  • Review in L'Express
  • Review in Le Temps (Geneva)
  • Review in La Libre (Brussels)
  • Review in Le Point
  • Review in Le Monde
  • etc.

Swedish Invasion!

Happy New Year to one and all!

I've been away from the blog for a few weeks, and obviously everyone knows this already, but in the interests of complétude, I feel I should finish what I started back on 29 November.

To begin, for anyone who managed to miss it, a revue de presse from mid-December:
And, confirming the trend of a veritable synergie suédoise happening in Winnipeg, H&M are coming to town as well, apparently at Polo Park where the Safeway is (was?):
Only days after international home furnishings giant IKEA unveiled plans to build a new 350,000-square-foot destination store in southwest Winnipeg, a spokeswoman for one of the world's largest clothing and fashion retailers-- Sweden-based H&M -- said it's also got its eye on Winnipeg for expansion.

"We are expanding throughout Canada and we're always looking for new and great cities to expand into," Emily Scarlett said Thursday. "And being a major city, Winnipeg is definitely on our radar screen."


H&M is rumoured to be looking at the former Canada Safeway space in Polo Park Shopping Centre, but Scarlett and Polo Park general manager Deborah Green would neither confirm nor deny that.
This really is a juste retour des choses, as Winnipeg was known as the 'Swedish Capital' of Canada up until World War II.